Troy High senior tailback Teron Kinnard eludes a tackle during an Oct. 20 matchup with Troy Athens. Kinnard and the Colts topped the Red Hawks 20-19 to secure the program's first bid since 2009.

Troy High senior tailback Teron Kinnard eludes a tackle during an Oct. 20 matchup with Troy Athens. Kinnard and the Colts topped the Red Hawks 20-19 to secure the program's first bid since 2009.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Troy clinches playoff spot with last-second victory over Athens

Senior wideout Givon Cinque scored the game-winning touchdown with 24.2 seconds remaining

By: Timothy Pontzer | Troy Times | Published October 20, 2017 | Updated October 24, 2017 4:23pm


TROY — A crosstown clash set the stage as two bitter rivals both looked to use the regular-season finale to snap a significant streak.

Troy High came out victorious, topping Troy Athens 20-19 with a thrilling finish Oct. 20 on the road. After failing to notch a first down once in the entire second half, the Colts put together a final possession that moved the chains three times.

Senior Givon Cinque capped off the comeback, pulling down an 11-yard touchdown catch with 24.2 seconds remaining. An extra point provided the necessary margin of victory.

"We just had to get it done," Cinque said amidst a raucous on-field celebration. "The last play, I saw the ball and knew I had to catch it. It was mine to go up and get."

The win handed the Colts (6-3, 4-3 OAA White) a sixth victory on the season, securing a spot in the playoffs — a perk Troy has not enjoyed since 2009.

"To be honest, this is the greatest feeling I've ever had," Cinque continued. "Since my freshman year I've dreamed about this. This means a lot to the program. We're on the map now."

The Colts utilized a strong defensive effort, forcing six turnovers. First-year coach Chris Frasier praised both sides of the ball, taking pride in a never-say-die attitude.

"I told the kids at the beginning of this week, this could be our last game, so we have to play with no holds barred," Frasier said. "We had to put it all out on the field. We just stuck it out, and at the end when we needed, it we went down and scored a touchdown."

Frasier was thrilled to make the playoffs, something he called a vital first step in his attempt to rebuild the program.

"This means everything to the kids, this is a huge step for us," Frasier said. "Today I had a lot of text messages from former players all over the world wishing us luck, and we wanted to represent them well."

With many clad in pink — including both teams — a near-capacity crowd witnessed the 45th meeting in the rivalry. The Red Hawks (0-9, 0-7 OAA Red) came frustratingly close to earning the first and only win of the campaign.

"All year long these guys fought, and they will never be defined by their record," said Athens coach Josh Heppner. "I don't care if you have a winning or losing season, you're defined by how you respond to adversity. You must have responsibility, accountability and serve others. We look to see if you're a part of the problem or solution, and these guys were a part of the solution, putting the program on the path it needs to be."

Athens struggled early, turning the ball over on its first three possessions.

A fumble set Troy up in the red zone, leading to a 5-yard scoring scamper by Cinque. The senior lined up at quarterback, tailback and wide receiver during the contest.

"Coach told me I needed to come out and make plays, and I did whatever I could to do that for him," Cinque said.

His coach cited both his smarts and skills, saying he is confident putting Cinque anywhere on the gridiron.

"(Cinque) is a really intelligent kid, and he showed that tonight," Frasier said. "He can do a lot of things for us, and he showed he's a pretty good player."

On the next drive, Athens snapped the ball over the punter's head on fourth down, giving the Colts possession at the 1-yard line. A goal-line stand by the Red Hawks pushed Troy back to the 10-yard line, leading to a 26-yard field goal from senior kicker Michael Abitheira.

"We got it at the one-inch line and couldn't score, which was very frustrating," Frasier admitted. "You have to give it to Athens, they played really well inside. They had a lot of beat up guys but came in with a really good game plan."

Three plays later, junior defensive back Quest Bigelow picked off an Athens pass, returning it to the 3-yard line. Once again, the Red Hawks stood tall under the shadow of the goalposts as junior defensive back Nick Grabke returned the favor with an interception of his own.

Another subsequent Athens fumble was turned into points as Troy once again stalled in the red zone before Abitheira notched a 22-yard field goal.

"We just couldn't score down there," Frasier said. "I felt like I was going to a gunfight without a gun."

With under a minute remaining before halftime, Athens junior quarterback Bobby Birney found sophomore receiver Carson Eads for a 55-yard touchdown. A missed extra point saw the scoreboard read 13-6 at the break.

After forcing a three-and-out by Troy, Athens marched down the field on its first possession of the second half, tying the contest with a 7-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Nathan Oprinca.

Each side traded punts for the next three drives before senior tight end Patrick Graham pulled down a 37-yard touchdown pass from Birney. Athens took the lead at 19-13, but once again failed to convert the extra try.

Troy failed to record a first down on the next two possessions before finally putting together the winning drive. Heppner consoled a group of emotional Red Hawks after the postgame handshake.

"I'm very proud of the way these seniors led," Heppner stated. "We were dealt a bad hand as a football program this year."

Heppner hopes to see his group moved out of the OAA's top flight, the Red Division. He said only Athens and Clarkston High have spent the last 23 years in the Red while others have moved down following lean seasons.

"This was a very, very, very good football team that suffered in terms of alignment," Heppner said. "These kids don't deserve this. I hope the league makes the right decision and puts us where we're supposed to be so we can have success in a place where we belong. I don't know why we haven't moved, but it’s a real shame, especially when you see how hard these kids have worked."

Despite the loss, Heppner complimented Frasier on the win. The two coaches have worked together closely since Frasier was appointed to his post, hosting joint events that are designed to highlight the bond shared through football in the community.

"Frasier is a really good dude, he's done a good job so far," Heppner said. "He's a great coach and good for him to coach up his alma mater and get them in the playoffs, because it's been awhile. I wish them nothing the best the rest of the way."